Blu-ray Review: The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter

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Alexander Fu Sheng was one of the big stars at the Shaw Brothers Studios as he worked his way up from part of the acting school to one of the leads in Five Shaolin Masters in 1974. This led to him being the title character in The Chinatown Kid (1977). Fu Sheng had a likability factor along with his marital arts skills. He seen by a few people as Shaw’s Bruce Lee. Unfortunately, like Bruce Lee, he would die young. In the summer of 1983, Fu Sheng perished in a car wreck. He was in the middle of making The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter with fellow superstar Gordon Liu. When Bruce Lee died while making Game of Death, Golden Harvest had to figure out how to complete the film. The final movie used none of the original script that Bruce Lee had mapped out and a fraction of the fight footage he shot. Shaw Brothers had to figure out a way to save his uncompleted film without making it look like a cash grab. Fu Sheng’s film would be completed without having to use an actor wearing a Fu Sheng mask to fool the audience.

The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter is based off the true story of the Yangso family. The original script dealt with how General Yang and his seven sons met with the Liao army to battle on the Golden Beach. The Yangs seemed destined to an easy victory. Even the mother (Executioners From Shaolin‘s Lily Li) had gotten a fortune that of her seven sons going to battle, six would return home. The battle went bad when one Yangs’ partners has sold out to the Liao army. The fight between the Yang and the others is a visual wonder since they’re all battling with poles that can do various things including one that can wrap around body parts. The fortune proves true when the sixth Yang son (Alexander Fu Sheng) returns home alone. He has emotionally snapped from the defeat. The mother realizes it wasn’t about six sons, but just the sixth. Although it turns out the fifth son (Kill Bill’s Gordon Liu) has also escaped, but he is to shamed to return home. He wants to become a monk at a temple where they teach against violence. Originally the Sixth and Fifth Yang sons team up to defeat the Liao army. But the car crash put an end to that ending.

Director Lau Kar-leung (The 36th Chamber of Shaolin) spent time trying to figure out how to rework the film with the existing footage. He figured out a solution that was respectful to Fu Sheng. He didn’t go the Game of Death route with body doubles, wrapping up an actor in bandages or clips from previous films. Lau reworked the second half of the film so that the Fifth Yang child must team up with one of his sisters (My Young Auntie‘s Kara Hui) to take them out the invaders. The action ends in a memorable battle that features a lot of dental work destruction.

The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter goes beyond the end of Fu Sheng’s career (there would also be a posthumous release of one more film that he also directed), but mark what would become Shaw Brothers transition from theatrical releases to television productions. The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter elevates Alexander Fu Sheng’s legacy.

The Videos is 2.35:1 anamorphic. The 1080p image legs you fully enjoy the glory of Shawscope. The details in the fight sequences shines. The audio is DTS-HD MA mono for tracks in Cantonese, Mandarin and English. You’ll hear a lot of poles bashing against each other. The movie is subtitled in English.

Audio commentary by Jonathan Clements, author of A Brief History of China. He deals with the death of Alexander Fu Sheng and how it altered the movie’s script.

Appreciation (22:54) by film critic and historian Tony Rayns. He points out that this was the penultimate film at Shaw Brothers by Lau Kar-leung. He would go on to direct Disciples of the 36th Chamber with Gordon Liu. What’s interesting is the film wasn’t a major hit since fans weren’t ready to see Alexander Fu Sheng die on screen. Rayns gives the historical background that formed the script.

Interview with Gordon Liu (20:06) sits down with the actor. He talks about the impact the movie had on him from both the role and losing Alexander Fu Sheng. He goes into the original plot of the film and how it was changed after Fu Sheng’s passing. There’s a discussion about Lau Kar-leung’s approach to the battle of Golden Beach.

Martial Mom (32:43) interviews Lily Li. The actress was only 30 when she played the 70-year-old Dowager She. She got the role because the older actresses couldn’t handle the action scenes. She gets into her time at Shaw Brothers.

The Shadow Heroine (32:09) has Yeung Ching-ching talk about auditioning at Shaw Brothers for director Lau Kar-leung. He immediately started using her in his films in 1979. She talks about working with the fighting style of the Peking Opera Company graduates. She points out that her scenes in Chang Cheh movies were directed by others. She talks about how she only spoke Mandarin and it didn’t matter since they had a crew that dubbed the Cantonese. All three interviews were filmed by Frédéric Ambroisine in 2004.

A Tribute to Fu Sheng (6:12) commemorates the late actor. This played before screenings of The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter. The only copy they found was run in West Germany. The piece has a German speaker talking over the Chinese narrator. All of this is subtitled in English. These is footage of Fu Sheng’s funeral and cremation.

Alternate opening credits (4:04) is from when the film was released as The Invincible Pole Fighters. This appears to have been taken off an old video master.

Theatrical trailer (4:15) has a more ’80s version of the Shaw Brothers logo. They give us all the Yangs son even if most of them don’t make it past the first third of the film. Digital Reissue Trailer (1:09) tries to make things look funky fresh.

Image gallery has color promo photos, posters, promo book and DVD covers.

First Pressing Only: Illustrated collectors’ booklet featuring new writing on the film by Terrence J. Brady

Arrow Video presents The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter. Directed by Lau Kar-leung. Screenplay by Lau Kar-leung & Kuang Ni. Starring Lily Li, Gordon Liu, Alexander Fu Sheng, Kara Hui, Ko Fei, Ching Chu and Lau Kar-leung. Rated: Unrated. Running Time: 99 minutes. Release Date: April 5, 2022.

Joe Corey is the writer and director of "Danger! Health Films" currently streaming on Night Flight and Amazon Prime. He's the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.